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Davis: Chad Kelly and the Toronto Argonauts are in very deep trouble

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Claims about harassment apparently sounded truthful, judging by a CFL announcement

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The Toronto Argonauts and their suspended quarterback Chad Kelly might soon be wisely pondering an out-of-court settlement.

The Argos and the CFL’s reigning outstanding player have been preparing for a lawsuit filed against them by a former assistant strength/conditioning coach, who claimed the team did nothing to protect her from the quarterback’s repeated, unwanted sexual advances and subsequently terminated her contract. In recent submissions to the court, Kelly and the Argos pled innocence and said she had basically misconstrued everything before her term contract expired.

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Good luck with that.

Her claims about harassment apparently sounded truthful, judging by an announcement Tuesday from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie following an independent investigation into Kelly’s actions.

“That in-depth investigation found that Mr. Kelly unequivocally violated the CFL’s Gender-based Violence Policy,” said Ambrosie in a league-issued statement.

“Mr. Kelly’s suspension is the direct result of his behaviour. The addition of mandatory counselling focuses on his need for self-reflection and understanding of his actions. He must take full advantage of this opportunity for personal betterment in order to return to the CFL.”

On the day before CFL teams opened camps for rookies and quarterbacks, Ambrosie suspended Kelly for two preseason contests and a minimum nine regular-season contests. The suspension is contingent upon Kelly’s participation in counselling classes.

If the suspension remains intact, Kelly would miss a July 4 road game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders but would become eligible Aug. 22, when the Roughriders visit Toronto. There are numerous scenarios that could play out before then, such as an appeal, the Argonauts dumping him or Kelly quitting the CFL and looking to play elsewhere, knowing that the NFL’s Denver Broncos released him in 2018 after he was charged with criminal trespassing.

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After studying the 87-page report that won’t be released publicly, Kelly’s lawyer told the media his client was pondering an appeal. Realistically, that would delay the suspension and could reduce it by a couple of games, but it could also magnify the situation as more details leak out.

The Argonauts don’t want that. According to the former coach’s allegations — none of which have been proven in court — she took her concerns to “general manager” John Murphy, who allegedly told her she had “opened a can of worms that didn’t need to be opened.”

Although he is listed on Toronto’s website as its assistant general manager, the Argonauts insist Murphy was only a “consultant” and he has remained on staff, according to Toronto’s real GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons, throughout the team’s player evaluations, draft and preparations for training camp. Clemons said he wasn’t personally aware of the accusations until the suit was filed.

Clemons is expected to meet the media Thursday. The Argonauts reportedly intend to abide by the suspension. They could also terminate — or at least suspend — Murphy and try to get back the $300,000 contract bonus and $100,000 promotional fee, amounts they recently paid their quarterback according to reports from TSN and 3DownNation.

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For Ambrosie, who last week was in Regina to attend the celebration of life for former Riders president Jim Hopson, this was his second major ruling of the offseason. He recently issued an indefinite suspension to Shawn Lemon, a veteran defensive end who won the 2023 Grey Cup with the Montreal Alouettes, for betting on CFL games. That’s effectively a lifetime suspension for the 35-year-old Lemon, an appropriate punishment for someone who could ruin the integrity of the league

Kelly is 30. He’s a high-profile college quarterback who was dismissed at Clemson for detrimental conduct. After getting bounced from the NFL, he secured Toronto’s 2022 Grey Cup victory with a relief appearance before turning in an MOP regular-season performance during the 2023 campaign, his first as a CFL starter.

Because Kelly is also damaging the integrity of the CFL, although in a different manner, the punishment seems fair and warranted. It also leaves the Argonauts without a veteran quarterback, which seems trite in the overall picture.

“Players are the ambassadors of our great game,” said Ambrosie. “They are expected to be leaders in the locker room and role models in the community.”

This strong statement serves as another reminder: What an athlete does away from the field is more important than what they do on the field.

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